[I just read a self-help book and, like Don Quixote, need to vent…]
My 10 rules for becoming a successful guru:
- Appear popular at the start: humans are just like dogs that follow other dogs. So have a legion of disciples and followers. Make them up when you start out. Don’t hesitate to hire actors and internet helpers.
- Give the audience the keys to the universe: flatter your audience by giving them a story wherein they are the heroes capable of great feats as long as they follow a recipe that you are a part of. A good guru knows the secret worries and desires of his audience and orients his stories towards those. If the audience fears asteroids, spin them a story about how the mind can influence the forces of the cosmos responsible for the trajectory of asteroids. If the audience secretly wants to control the weather, tells them about the magical rain dances. If they want to be healed, tell them your theories cure cancer or whatever else they worry about.
- Fit the story within the culture of the audience so that the mechanisms sound familiar and validated. Truth is completely irrelevant for this and is often a hindrance, so you only need to use familiar words and concepts, replacing the actual theories with whatever suits your story. When you talk to a Western audience where science is the source of truth and power, you thus stack your story full of the latest terms in Western science, whether that is gravitational waves, Higgs-Boson particles, intergenerational epigenetic transmissions, blockchain, Modern Monetary Theory, or whatever it is that your audience is likely to have heard of in the news. Use those terms, explain them in a way that is roughly right, and then claim some theory about them that is complete nonsense but suits you.
- Do not tax the intelligence of the audience for if they were smart enough to understand all the things you refer to, they wouldn’t be interested in what you had to say in the first place. So explain things in a very light and emotional storytelling manner. Speak of quantum waves as if they are friends with whom you can have a conversation. Talk about the mysticism of the carbon cycle as if your audience was born with the buttons in their hands that ruled the minutest details of that cycle. Your audience will love you for it because it will make them feel they finally understand these things in a way that makes them feel smart and powerful. Indeed, you basically cannot overdo this part: all that happens if you are spectacularly wrong in one story about some part of modern science is that you lose those members of the audience that really know that part, a negligible number.
- Set your audience up slowly with a hook: offer them something cheap that draws them in and only when they are in so far that they become slightly dependent on more do you increase the demands on their purses. The key thing here is that the audience will trust you if they want to trust you and hence only after you have managed to create a continued need for your message. This is a subtle game of hints, ‘proof’, personal ‘testimonies’ of your previous disciples, stories of how you really are uninterested in money, etc.
- Your appearance is everything so look the part and be seen to believe yourself, ie walk the walk. Whether you truly do is irrelevant because what matters is the appearance. Truth is no obstacle at all. If your audience needs you to have travelled the stars, simply tell them aliens abducted you and took you for a ride. If the audience wants to hear you spent 10 years in a cave in Tibet, then just tell them that is what you did. If they need you to have 100 kids and 50 wives, just make them up. If there is too much well-known information out there to prove you couldn’t possibly have done what your audience wants to believe, pretend you were in contact with someone who did who was your guru and that you are now following in his footsteps. Similarly, dress and behave the way the audience expects you to, whether that means you must have an enormous beard or a weird antenna sticking out of your behind. Remember the important lesson of Machiavelli: people believe what they see and hear. Don’t worry about the very few who look at your actions and deduce who you truly are: they are not into gurus anyways so you lose nothing by not appealing to them. Your potential followers resent such skeptical characters, so they are no threat to you at all (indeed, the more noise skeptics make about you, the better).
- Entertain and be charming. You have to make the audience want to be you or sleep with you. If you can’t be entertaining and charming, don’t even start.
- Have a bible. If need be, you can have a follower write that bible, but you need a holy book that people can pick over and worship.
- Be ambiguous: no two people truly want the same thing. So in order to have many followers you must create enough ambiguity in your story such that they can all believe something different. Like the bible, tell many different sides of the same story such that different members of the audience can buy into different aspects.
- Be scarce: a guru is like a Ferrari and must not be seen to be available to everyone because that limits the value to the audience of having one. They want to feel special. So when things take off you must become sparing with your time and your new public utterances. Indeed, the best thing is then to die.